Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Humans’ closest cousins may be extinct in ten years

CHEEKY Bidu-Bidu has come a long way since his days being kept as a pet and fed on condensed milk and sausages.

The orphaned orangutan now spends his days gleefully guzzling fruit and swinging in trees — but the youngster is still not safe.

One human cough or sneeze could kill him.

The rampant destruction of other jungle areas means it is simply too risky to release them anywhere else.

There are now just 11,000 of Bidu-Bidu’s sub-species, the North-East Bornean orangutan, left in their native Sabah, a state on the tip of the Malaysian island of Borneo.

Their population has plummeted by more than 50 per cent over the past 60 years.

By far the greatest threat is loss of their jungle habitat.

At least 55 per cent of their forest home has been cleared in the past 20 years, mainly to make way for the production of palm oil.

Sue, 69, whom locals have dubbed the Godmother of Orangutans, first became aware of the animals’ plight 14 years ago.

She said: “I went to Sabah on holiday in 2001 and instantly fell head over heels in love with them.

“I knew I needed to help and started planning immediately. That’s when the charity was born.”

Sue, of Effingham, Surrey, set up Orangutan Appeal UK, which helps to fund the Sepilok Rehabilitation Centre in Sabah, where orphaned and injured apes are cared for.

She explains: “Our aim is to look after them but ensure the orangutans are left independent enough that they don’t rely on us. We want them to eventually thrive in the wild.”

Devoted Sue talks animatedly as she sets about giving Bidu-Bidu a meal — wearing a surgical mask and gloves to protect him from germs, as everybody who comes into contact with him must do.